News / Africa

Ebola Also Devastates Wild Ape Population

FILE - Mrithi, a 20-year-old male western lowland gorilla.
FILE - Mrithi, a 20-year-old male western lowland gorilla.

One day in 1996, boys from a village in northern Gabon brought home a chimpanzee they found dead in the forest. The villagers butchered it for food.

That act set off an Ebola outbreak that killed 21 people, according to the World Health Organization.

Years later, on a reporting trip in Gabon, author David Quammen met two men from the village who were there during the outbreak.

At the time Ebola was ravaging their village and their families, they noticed something strange. In the forest nearby, 13 gorillas lay dead.

Thirteen dead gorillas, 21 dead humans. Plus the chimpanzee the boys found in the forest.

All victims of Ebola.

'Wave of death'

For the western lowland gorilla, the toll of Ebola has been devastating.

“There has been an epidemic wave of death passing through gorilla populations across central Africa,” Quammen said, “a wave of Ebola killing them as well as occasionally killing humans.”

Ecologist Peter Walsh with the University of Cambridge watched 90 to 95 percent of the gorillas he was studying in a Congolese sanctuary disappear in two Ebola outbreaks in the early 2000s.

He co-authored a scientific assessment that put the western lowland gorilla on the critically endangered list in 2007.

“The combination of bushmeat hunting and disease was really slamming western gorillas,” he said.

Walsh and his colleagues estimated that Ebola would wipe out 45 percent of the entire population in just one generation.

Connectedness

For Quammen, the villagers’ story of the 13 dead gorillas stuck with him. It demonstrated “the connectedness between other species and humans when it comes to these new, emerging viruses,” he said.

Quammen went on to author Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. In the book, he describes the growing pace at which diseases are spilling over from animals to people.

“It’s not a new thing. It’s been around for a long time,” Quammen said. Bubonic plague jumped from rodents to humans through infected fleas and killed as much as 60 percent of Europe in the 14th century.

And Ebola is not the first species to spill over from apes.

The most lethal species of malaria, Plasmodium falciparum, came from gorillas, according to research Walsh co-authored.

Into the woods

But the pace of spillover seems to be increasing, Quammen said.

“Something seems to be different because we’ve seen a lot of these new diseases, especially viral diseases, emerging over the last five or six decades. And that, of course, raises the question of, why?”

One answer, Quammen said, is the growing human population that is encroaching deeper and deeper into new habitats.

“There are now 7 billion of us on the planet. We’re going into these diverse ecosystems. We’re cutting down trees, we’re building mines and roads.”

And as humans encounter the animals living in these ecosystems, he added, “We’re giving the viruses those animals carry the opportunity to jump to a new host.”

William Karesh, an infectious disease expert at EcoHealth Alliance, said, “It’s becoming very clear that there’s a strong correlation between environmental change of any type and disease emergence.

“Whether it’s deforestation or agricultural growth or reforestation, it’s that change that allows that disease to emerge because it’s disrupting the natural balance," Karesh said.

Spilling back

Spillover goes in the other direction, too.

Ecotourism has been great for protecting wild-ape habitat, ecologist Walsh said. But “in the places where we’re succeeding the most in protecting them from hunting and habitat loss," he noted, "we’re killing them with our viruses.”

Human respiratory viruses are the No. 1 killer of chimpanzees and gorillas that are accustomed to the presence of humans. In chimpanzees, half of the deaths are caused by human respiratory viruses.

Walsh advocates vaccinating apes that come in contact with tourists against human diseases such as measles.

He and his colleagues call for better enforcement of the laws against hunting the critically endangered western lowland gorilla, and better protection of their dwindling habitat.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Pauline E. from: USA
August 22, 2014 10:25 AM
It makes perfect sense. I'm sure that in the future we will be hearing about similar interactions between alligators and humans in southern USA.

by: Stan from: USA
August 14, 2014 1:23 PM
My speculation is that these deadly viruses (AIDS, Ebola, etc) metamorphose from more benign germs due to scientists' injecting apes in the wild with experimental drugs. That would be why the diseases are only showing up in our generation, as otherwise those ape species would not have survived till the current generation. Unless such experiments stop, there could be a virus within this century with the capability of wiping out the human species.
In Response

by: Joseph from: Falco
August 18, 2014 7:39 PM
Ridiculous, paranoid assertion

by: psalmuel adekunle from: Nigeria
August 13, 2014 11:35 AM
am a blogger and a journalist. just want to inform you about the threat at hand in Nigeria with Ebola loooming in West Africa. and the Doctors on strike its all gibberish. you can write a story on that i may suplly you pictures if you need
In Response

by: Anonymous
August 14, 2014 11:27 AM
Can you elaborate on ur above post please

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs